The educational identity of many universities across the globe is shifting in an increasingly globalized world. In turn, traditional teaching strategies must co-evolve to make a conscious and deliberate effort to promote inclusion in the classroom. Despite ETH Zürich being a highly international institution, a considerable fraction of the teaching staff and faculty at ETH are from traditionally non-marginalized groups (e.g., male, white, cis-gender, heterosexual, non-immigrant), making them instrinsically less able to identify with underserved students (e.g., people of color, LGBTQIA+, immigrants). A recent lecture by an ETH professor from D-GESS is an evident example of why ETH needs to prioritize inclusion and social justice in the classroom. To learn more about the incident involving the use of racially harmful learning materials and how this issue has been discussed and handled, visit the “Anti-racism at ETH Zürich” webpage here.
Racist actions do not (necessarily) define individuals as “racists” – discriminatory teaching likely arises from a combination of implicit bias, unconscious racism, and a lack of awareness. It is important to recognize that this discussion is also not limited to an individual educator, but rather is an opportunity to tackle a systemic issue, which requires systemic counter-action from the institution. We emphasize the importance of ETH taking responsibility for the discrimination experienced by the Chinese community. Further, instead of dismissing such incidents as“misunderstandings” or “taken out of context”, ETH should provide a blueprint for the steps they will take to ensure members of the university educate themselves to avoid making such mistakes in the future. A set of concrete actions must be taken by ETH to ensure that discriminatory teaching strategies do not get used in the future.
While an ultimate goal to support all students at ETH necessitates increasing the inclusion and retention of university educators from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, a simultaneous need to provide additional learning opportunities for current educators must be met. Actionable initiatives may involve opportunities to learn how to adopt inclusive pedagogy via trainings that coach individuals to be self-reflective about the implications of their teaching styles, and incentivize participation in social justice initiatives (e.g., attending implicit bias workshops, leading regular discussions about anti-discrimination in lab group meetings). Importantly, such trainings and workshops must be integrated as a requirement for community members involved in teaching and mentorship (e.g., requirement for obtaining tenure or serving as a teaching assistant). Such a compulsory anti-racism/discrimination training for all ETH staff was suggested by the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars in Zürich (ACSSZ). We at AVETH Diversity highly endorse this request to train all ETH staff and faculty with teaching and mentorship responsibilities.
We at AVETH Diversity are also actively working to organize opportunities for such training at ETH, and we invite the ETH administration to support our on-going efforts. While mandatory training is not sufficient to provide equitable and just learning opportunities for all, it is one action that can be adopted by ETH to ensure situations such as the most recent incident do not recur. We encourage readers of this statement to consider such a training as part of a larger practice of growth and self-reflection. Only with a genuine interest to be more inclusive in the classroom, can instructors meet the demands of our increasingly diverse student body.
Please stay connected with AVETH Diversity as we develop social justice in teacher training programs. If you would like to train these skills and develop a more supportive learning environment for all right now, please review this free Guide for Inclusive Teaching offered by the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning. This resource can help instructors to be immediately more inclusive through practical and accessible teaching strategies. We are currently building a learning community to build a similar inclusive teaching training for ETH using the Columbia model. Please e-mail us to learn more at diversity[at]aveth.ethz.ch.
The AVETH diversity team